THE menu song.

First, the crowd around the bonfire was divided into seven groups, each group representing a day of the week. Each group was made to think of a dish for their day, a dish to sing about when it came their turn to dish out their share of the song. Monday came first. Or was it Sunday? Anyway (any day), the song went like this: Today is Sunday, today is Sunday, Sunday kare-kare! All Apache brothers, we wish the same to you. And so on to Monday, Tuesday, and so forth; each group tried to outdo the others in terms of dish, you know, and dishing it out.

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I think it was after the menu song that we ate. It was called yawyaw time. If yawyaw is truly Apache for food, I don’t know. It sounds Ilocano to me. So the food was passed around by these peons (a multi-lingual group, this) who had to serve everybody as part of their initiation into the club. The food kind of depended on the past year’s financial picture. Sometimes there was barbecue on sticks and sandwiches in brown bags. Sometimes there were more elaborate things. I really liked the food the year Uncle or Ninong Eddie Fuentes – (God rest his soul, too) had a buffet table laid out and they served chili con carne, warm hotdog sandwiches with mustard, pickles, and the trimmings, served up by Uncle Eddie himself. And there was coffee guzzling out of giant pots, brewed, of course. When you’re true-blue Baguio, it’s the only kind.

Sometime after eating, they called for the paddling line. The paddle was when the peons became Apaches. Peons were the poor souls who were nominated the year before to become Apaches. They went on to spend the rest of the year, between bonfires, winning the approval of the rest of the club. Come that week just before the bonfire, they had to be at the beck and call of everybody else. When Session Cafe was still on Session Road, it was the venue for these peons to prove their worth: clean a couple of cars, fetch a bottle from one of them, go after cigarettes. They also had to know the right answer to the inevitable question any Apache asked a peon: “Sinoak?”

Now, that paddling. It was the culminating activity of the peon’s year.. The Apaches stood in one line with their legs apart. To become a full-fledged member of the club, a peon had to get through the line between all those legs, suffering punches in the process. I rather think, though, that it looked scarier than it actually was. Most peons were second-generationers, anyway, and the paddling line had their fathers, brothers, cousins, uncles, all blood relations or not.

Those who weren’t second-generationers and/or vouched for by the Apache grapevine were the usual suspects: social climbers, politicians after the votes, wannabes wanting to be in with Baguio’s “innest” crowd, the newly come chasing after the “arrived” stamp, etc… indeed an odd mix those peons... Whatever, there was always the ubiquitous Uncle Condring Bueno, God bless him, who policed the line with an iron hand. No talaksan, no trapping any peon with your legs, no hanky-panky.

Anyway, when the peons had made it through the paddling line, it was time for that song from The Student Prince, Gaudeamus Igitur. Congratulations went around, and everyone sang along. Mostly, I listened, because the Apache all male choir was truly, truly special.

Night ended with cleanup time. The Apaches always left a site clean. Peons stayed on until the fire died out, taking the trash with it. Leftover talaksan got taken home.

Goodbyes were said, last-minute gossip bounced between here and there, and everyone tried to find the car. The lucky ones found them, and their way home.

On the way home, everyone always said it was a boring night. When will the Apaches ever have new jokes? Why do they insist on that menu song? When will they ever have a different repertoire? But it is with the boring repetitiveness of such tribal rituals like the Apache bonfire that families affirmed the continuity of life and their traditions.

Apache season was a yearly time for the tribe to reunite, great chiefs, braves, squaws, papooses, grandpapooses, and all. Between seasons, we got the knock-knocks ready.

A WASP friend once asked me how it could be that a club called itself the Apaches, thousands of miles away from the originals who go by the tribal name.

For the life of me, while I understand how it could be, given Baguio’s history, I could find no way to explain it to this WASP friend. Besides, when did white man ever understand Injun, duuhh.

Let me end with a legendary Apache tale. It involves the late G. Bert waking up on Session Road itself because the late Andy and company had rigged it so…

One fine New Year’s Eve in the 50s, the old gang had gotten good and soused in the old Session Café. To the point that Uncle Bert had passed out. The gang thus decided to secure one of those collapsible cot beds for him. So they put him on it and it on… Session Road, right in the middle of the section between the cathedral steps and Session Theater.

And home they went.

They made their way back to the site later in the morning, however, just to enjoy G. Bert’s waking up scene, which he himself described as follows. He first opened his eyes to see telephone lines against the sky… decided he was dreaming, and went back to sleep. When next he awoke, the wires were still there, and he turned to his left, and saw the cathedral steps. Again, he decided he was dreaming, and went back to sleep.

When next he awoke, it was to his right that he turned, to then wonder why he was seeing the Session Theater. It then dawned on him that he was awake and so very not dreaming.

When he once again turned to his left, there were people coming down the cathedral steps.

All were looking at him. It was then that he spotted his Apache brothers sitting on the steps, laughing, of course. Another turn to his right, and he saw more Apaches, sitting on the sidewalk in front of the Session Theater, laughing, of course.

While he uttered an expletive, he had the sense to get up and quickly join the group in front of the theater… and thus pretend he hadn’t just gotten up from a cot parked on Session Road.

Those were the days, they say. I say the days have passed, but live on, in many a bonfire tale like this one…